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Flat lines and Forecasting Women’s State Legislative Representation

When you are in the business of keeping numbers in the present, you’re often asked to forecast numbers in the future based on historical trends and variables. In our world of women’s political representation, we’re asked (and often ask ourselves) how long it will take for women to reach political parity in government. Here’s the problem: we can’t forecast the pace for progress when our numbers are moving backward instead of forward. Unfortunately, that’s the trend we saw from 2014 to 2015 for women in state legislatures. Let’s remember the recent history for women in state legislatures. In 2010, we saw the largest percentage decline in the number of women in state legislatures since we at CAWP began keeping the numbers in the 1970s. In 2012, women made up for those losses and netted about 20 seats for women nationwide. Women still remained just over 24% of state legislators, less than the historical height of women’s state legislative representation of 24.5%. WomenStLeg Before Election Day 2014, 1,791 women (24.3%) served in state legislatures nationwide. In 2015, 1,786 women (24.2%) hold state legislative seats. While the aggregate numbers reflect an overall loss in women’s state legislative representation, the partisan trends of 2014 were clearly evident among women candidates. From 2014 to 2015, the number of Republican women state legislators increased by a net of 60 legislators and the number of Democratic women state legislators decreased by a net of 68. Women lost a net of 26 seats in state houses nationwide, but gained a net of 20 seats in state senates. The trend overall, then, remained one of breaking even versus breaking records of women in office. Slide08 Slide09While Republican women gained state legislative seats this year, they still remain significantly underrepresented among all Republican legislators. In 2015, Republican women are just 17% of all Republican state legislators, while Democratic women are 33.8% of all Democratic state legislators. For Republican women, that’s a smaller proportion of their party’s representation than they held in 1995. Democratic women have increased as a proportion of all Democrats over the past two decades, though the flat line of progress is evident in the most recent election years (see chart below). PercentWomenStLEgThirteen more women of color will serve in state legislators in 2015 than served in 2014, reaching 390 women of color in total, or 21.8% of all women state legislators (up from 21% in 2014). These gains are significant in a year when women lost overall, but they are still reflective of a very slow rate of change. What explains the stagnation in state legislative women? A few things are of importance to note. First, women fare worse in elections where Republicans fare best because they make up a smaller proportion of Republican candidates. Moreover, the Democratic losses in Republican years are particularly damaging among women officeholders, who are more likely to be Democrats. Second, the number of women candidates – Republicans and Democrats alike – is not increasing at a pace necessary to see representational gains. We know that women fare as well as men on Election Day when they are in comparable races, but women need to make it to the ballot to experience that same level of success. In 2014, 2,517 women ran for state legislative office, 20 lower than ran in 2010 and just 72 more than the number of women who ran in 2012. The flat line in women’s representation is consistent with the flat line in women’s candidacies, serving as yet another reminder for the need to encourage, support, and mobilize women to run. Lastly, if women are to reach political parity with men, they must do so in both political parties. The trends in 2010 and 2014, both Republican years that saw declines in women’s representation, demonstrate that the dearth of Republican women running and winning makes it hard to counter the Democratic losses among women in the same years. So when will women reach parity with men in state legislatures? At this pace, the prognosis is grim. Instead of forecasting numeric progress, however, I’d rather identify opportunities for numeric change. CAWP’s research provides insights into the challenges and opportunities for women running for state legislative seats, and CAWP programs work to provide the support infrastructure to women making the decision to run. But what else needs to be done to disrupt the stasis and prevent further falls in women’s state legislative representation? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. There is much more work to do.  

#WomenRun2014: Governors Outlook

Today we are focusing on the outlook for women running for governor. Despite 2014 being a “year of the governor” with 36 races across the nation,[1] we will not surpass any records for women running and winning states’ top executive posts this year. Candidates and Nominees Thirty (16D, 14R) women filed to run for governor in 20 states in 2014. No women filed for candidacy in 16 of the states with gubernatorial races. The record number of women filing for governor is 34, set in 1994 (18D, 15R, 1ACP).[2] This year, 9 (6D, 3R) women won their primaries, including the four (1D, 3R) incumbents running for re-election. The record for women gubernatorial nominees is 10, set in 1994 (6D, 3R, 1ACP) and reached again in 1998 (6D, 4R), 2002 (9D, 1R), 2006 (5D, 5R) and 2010 (5D, 5R). There are no woman-versus-woman gubernatorial contests this year. GovNomineesWinnersGovNomineesbyPartyIn addition to these women candidates and nominees, Delegate Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands) was successful in her primary bid to become governor of the Virgin Islands. Christensen is the only non-incumbent woman of color to make it to a general election ballot for governor this year. Two more female gubernatorial nominees in 2014 are women of color, incumbents Susana Martinez (R-NM) and Nikki Haley (R-SC). Both women were elected in 2010 as the first women of color to ever serve as governors in the United States.[3] Six more women of color filed in gubernatorial races this cycle, but did not make it to the general election, including two women in Florida and two women in Texas.[4] GovOpenSeatNominees All five of the non-incumbent female nominees for governor this year are Democrats. Three women candidates – Martha Coakley (MA), Gina Raimondo (RI), and Wendy Davis (TX) -- are running for open seats. Two women candidates – Susan Wismer (SD) and Mary Burke (WI) -- are running as challengers. Women have fallen short of making history as candidates, nominees, or open seat nominees in both major political parties this year. When compared to the most recent cycles with similar numbers of gubernatorial seats up for election, more women filed as candidates for governor this year, but fewer women made it through their primaries.

 GovComparable

Women Governors in 2015 Five (1D, 4R) women currently serve as governors. With Governor Jan Brewer leaving office in Arizona due to term limits, four (1D, 3R) incumbent women governors are running for re-election next week: Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Susana Martinez (R-NM), Mary Fallin (R-OK), and Nikki Haley (R-SC). All incumbent women are leading in their campaigns for re-election. Based on the most recent ratings, two non-incumbent nominees face uphill climbs to victory this year: Susan Wismer (D-SD) and Wendy Davis (D-TX). The Cook Political Report rates Rhode Island’s gubernatorial contest as “Lean Democrat,” giving Gina Raimondo (D) a slight edge in that contest. The remaining non-incumbent women, Martha Coakley (D-MA) and Mary Burke (D-WI), are contenders are in two of the most competitive gubernatorial races of this cycle, both rated as toss-ups by Cook. GovRatings In 2002, a record 4 (3D, 1R) new women were elected as governors. We are unlikely to exceed that number of new women winning this year. Moreover, based on these estimates, we may end up with the same number of women governors as in 2014 (5), changing only the partisan balance among women governors. The record number of women serving as governor simultaneously is nine, achieved in 2004 and 2007. What to Watch on Election Day In addition to tracking the numbers of women winning gubernatorial offices on Election Day and closely monitoring the most competitive races with women running (see table above), we will be watching these races where women have the potential to make history:
  • Rhode Island: Democrat Gina Raimondo, if elected, will be the first woman governor of Rhode Island and the first woman to hold two different statewide elected executive offices in that state. Raimondo currently serves as the state treasurer.
  • Massachusetts: Democrat Martha Coakley, if elected, will be the second woman governor of Massachusetts. However, she would be the first woman elected governor of the state. Former Lt. Governor Jane Swift (R) served as acting governor in 2001 after then-Governor Paul Cellucci’s resignation.
  • Virgin Islands: Democrat Donna Christensen, if elected, will be the first Black woman governor in the United States or territories. Christensen currently serves as one of two Black female delegates to the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Wisconsin: Democrat Mary Burke, if elected, will be the first woman governor of Wisconsin.
To date, 35 women (20D, 15R) have served as governors in 26 states. In addition, one woman has served as governor in Puerto Rico. Based on current ratings, two more states (RI and WI) and one territory (VI) have the potential to break this gubernatorial glass ceiling in 2014. However, to put these numbers in context, the number of men who will serve as governors in 2015 is greater than the number of women who have ever held gubernatorial office. For the latest numbers and information about women running for office in 2014, visit CAWP’s Election Watch 2014 and check out our next post, reporting on the scary statistics on women in the 2014 elections. You can also follow the conversation on Facebook and Twitter by using the hashtag #WomenRun2014.


[1] Of the 36 gubernatorial contests in 2014, only 8 are for open seats (AZ, AR, HI, MD, MA, NE, RI, and TX).
[2] Women who are third party candidates are included if their parties have recently won statewide offices. ACP refers to “A Connecticut Party.”
[3] Sila Calerón was elected governor of Puerto Rico in 2000 and served until 2005.
[4] In addition to Yinka Adeshina (R-FL), Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder (R-FL), Lisa Fritsch (R-TX), and Miriam Martinez (R-TX), Lynette “Doc” Bryant (D) filed as a candidate for governor of Arkansas and Linda Lopez (D) filed as a candidate for governor of New Mexico.

The Life of the Party? Women’s Representation in Congressional Party Caucuses

Earlier this week, I spoke to a group of 150 Republican women participating in the annual meeting of the National Coalition of Richard G. Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series (EIPSS). The EIPSS is one of the few national programs aimed at encouraging and preparing Republican women to run for office in multiple states. In preparation for my talk, I worked with CAWP data to examine gender differences in representation within both the Republican and Democratic parties. One of the most striking visuals that emerged was the chart below, showing women’s representation within their parties’ congressional caucuses since 1917. Women as Percentage of Party Caucuses 1917 to 2013As this line graph shows, Democratic women have seen a steady increase as a proportion of all Democratic members of the House and the Senate over time, with the steepest increases coming in the past two decades. This trend does not hold for Republican women, who have seen relative stagnation in their proportional representation to Republican men in the last ten years, and who hold fewer than 10% of Republican seats in the House or the Senate today. Democratic women, however, broke the 30% mark in both the House and Senate this year. While not reported here, this partisan difference is also evident at the state legislative level, where Democratic women hold 33% of all Democratically-held state legislative seats nationwide, while Republican women hold just 17% of all Republican seats. These statistics – and this visual – raise a number of questions: What’s holding women back within the Republican Party? What explains the relatively steep rise in women’s representation within the Democratic Party, at least at the federal level, since 1992? And, finally, how does this translate – if at all –  into legislative priorities, processes, and party relations? At CAWP, our research on women’s routes to office provides some insights into the different realities faced by Democratic and Republican women candidates. We find, for example, that Democratic women are more likely than Republican women to cite the support of women’s organizations as helpful to their electoral bids; with fewer such organizations to assist them, Republican women must rely on party support. And, with a Republican electorate that is majority male, perhaps the Republican Party leadership feels less pressure to recruit women candidates. Still, we know that reaching political parity between men and women won’t happen without women running and winning in both parties. If we want to reach 50%, we’re going to have to do better than holding 10% - or even 30% - of seats within the country’s major political parties.

On the Importance of Programs like Run Sister Run

Crystal DesVignes is a graduate student in political science at Rutgers University – Newark. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree and recently worked as a graduate intern at the Center for American Women and Politics. The views presented in this entry are her own.

            On March 22, 2013, the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) hosted approximately fifty African American women for its annual Run Sister Run program in conjunction with its Ready to Run™ program. As part of the diversity initiative along with Elección Latina, and Rising Stars, Run Sister Run offers campaign and political leadership training for those of the African Diaspora. The program is an opportunity to receive encouragement and valuable insight, and to interact first-hand with other African American women who have either run for elected office, are currently running for a position, plan to run in the future, or are contemplating running for an elected office.

 R2R_12The program is geared toward making sure that African American women who are politically-minded have a space to network and be directed to resources and people who will help them to meet their political aspirations. As a third time attendee of the program, I was already a believer in its importance. But, as the saying goes, the third time was the charm for me in solidifying my understanding of why we need to continue programs like this and expand them around the country.

            As I write this piece, I am painfully aware of the issues that women face in our country, even in 2013. We are underpaid for our work in the market place (hence the need for equal pay legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act) and undervalued for our work in the home. We were reminded last year of the fragility of our right to reproductive healthcare, and there was even discussion around whether our bodies could “shut down” a pregnancy that resulted from a “legitimate rape.” We were reduced to being included in “binders full of women” in the last presidential election as one candidate sought to prove that he supported gender equality in his gubernatorial cabinet. Despite all of this, and in some cases because of this, we press on and continue to fight for our place in the decision-making process in our country and government.

            The road to political inclusion is hard for women, to say the least. But for women of color, and African American women it particular, it can mean being doubly excluded from the political arena due to racialization and gendering. Of 98 women serving in Congress (18.3 % of the 535 seats in the 113th Congress), 30 or 30.6% are women of color. Only 14 are African American women. African American women hold only 241 seats in state legislatures across 44 states, and although New Jersey has an African American woman currently serving as speaker of the State Assembly (the Honorable Shelia Y. Oliver), she is only the second African American woman to hold this office in a state legislature nationwide.

            The numbers don’t lie. The people who come to the table to make decisions in our cities, states, and capitals should not all look alike. They should represent the country as we know it. To have a more inclusive racial/ethnic and gendered make-up among our elected officials isn’t just good politics, it makes for better government. We need more representation from African American women. The Center for American Women and Politics provides just a forum for this endeavor in Run Sister Run.

 

The Smart Business of Women’s Public Leadership

Last night, I joined an expert group of women on HuffPost Live to talk about Warren Buffett’s Fortune article on the importance of women’s full inclusion into American business, politics, and leadership. Put simply, Buffett argues that women are essential to American growth and success, representing half of the population that has been underutilized (“relegated to the sidelines”) for too long. Stifling half of the country’s talent is not only unethical, he writes, but is also bad business. And, as we know at the Center for American Women and Politics, under-representation of women in political offices is bad for democracy and governance. Our research shows that women bring unique voices to government, as voters, advocates, and elected officials. When in office, women prioritize different issues, build upon unique experiences, and often take a more inclusive and collaborative approach to Women in Congress Pie_Webgoverning. In the current political environment, it’s women who have provided at least some hope of breaking the paralysis that has characterized our nation’s capital. And, with women still representing less than 20% of Congress and under a quarter of state legislative posts, we have significant “human capacity,” in Buffett’s terms, left to be tapped. How do we capitalize on women’s capacity to lead? Buffett calls on his male colleagues to “get on board” with gender parity, but also urges women not to doubt their abilities nor give in to structural or self-imposed barriers to advancement. There is a symbiotic relationship between structural barriers and self-doubt, however, where women’s experiences with (or within) male-dominated institutions make it hard for them to view themselves as equal players in what remains a man’s world. The change that fuels Buffett’s optimism for the future is reliant on disrupting masculine dominance in public life, and that means altering long-held images of and expectations for public leadership. Buffett describes how, as a young man in the 1940s and 1950s, his floor for professional success was the ceiling for his sisters. In other words, society’s expectations for boys were not only greater than those expectations for girls, but women faced structural barriers that halted their path to leadership before they could even dare to see themselves as heads of communities, companies, or countries. Buffett is right to note that those structural barriers are eroding, but societal expectations of how leaders look and act still fall heavily into a male mold. CAWP has recently launched Teach a Girl to Lead, a campaign meant to change those expectations among boys and girls so that the idea of women’s leadership is not extraordinary, but ordinary – and essential. If we are to be as optimistic as Warren Buffett is about America’s future, we know that it’s imperative that future generations of girls and women not only see themselves as public leaders, but help to shatter the glass ceilings that remain in politics and government. That’s not only good for democracy, but it's also best for our country’s bottom line.

On Importance, Power, and Politics

On April  16, the Center for American Women and Politics welcomed Melody Barnes - former assistant to President Obama and director of the White House Domestic Policy Council – as this year’s Senator Wynona Lipman Chair in Women’s Political Leadership. Barnes spoke on Policies that Empower: The Journey from Vulnerability to Engagement, detailing the policy agenda that she deems essential to moving our country forward – particularly among the most vulnerable and most growing populations of Americans. barnes2In addition, Barnes paid tribute to the Chair’s namesake – Senator Wynona Lipman – by detailing both her accomplishments and her legacy. While Senator Wynona Lipman became the first African American woman elected to the New Jersey State Senate in 1971, her legacy is not simply as a “first;” she is best remembered as an advocate, activist, and champion for those whose voices could easily be left unheard in the halls of power. In her remarks, Barnes referred to a quote from Senator Lipman that shaped the remainder of her speech. Senator Lipman frequently told young people, “If you want to create change, don’t just get to know important people, become important people.” This message resonates amidst recent discussions about “leaning in” not only to make a difference in your own life, but also to affect the lives of others. Women in politics have begun to heed this message. Women play an essential role in electing our political leaders; they vote at higher rates and in higher numbers than their male counterparts, and women’s votes have decided the outcomes of recent elections. While this could be viewed as women supporting other important people, women voters have proven that they, in fact, are some of the most important people in electoral politics today. But women’s political participation should not stop at casting ballots. To take Senator Lipman’s words truly to heart, women should fight for their rightful places at decision-making tables throughout our nation, whether on councils, boards, or in our state and federal legislatures. Senator Lipman knew that advocacy and activism are essential to make change, but being in positions of power to heed the calls of advocates in creating policies or statutes is essential. And, as Barnes noted, Senator Lipman emphasized follow-up to ensure that once on the books, laws were enforced effectively. Melody Barnes shared her journey to becoming an important person who was able to sit at some of the highest decision-making tables in the land – advising President Obama and shaping his domestic policy agenda. She has followed Senator Lipman’s advice and has made tangible change – from helping to craft and pass the Affordable Care Act to enacting education reforms from early childhood to higher education. But what Barnes reiterated in her remarks were the ways in which we all are, or can become, important people by harnessing the power we already hold (and of which we are often unaware) to make change in the areas we choose. Politics is an opportune site for harnessing that power, and it’s one where women must engage to create the lasting change they seek.

CAWP On the Road: Re-envisioning Public Leadership

"Our dream is a generation of young people who expect and believe that leadership should be diverse in every way." – Debbie Walsh, Director of the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), Rutgers University This week, the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) was proud to join the White House and the U.S. Department of Education in co-sponsoring the Conference on Girls’ Leadership and Civic Education at the White House. The Conference was intended to move the ball forward on President Obama’s pledge to promote political and economic equality for all women through the Equal Futures Partnership. To do so, the conference co-hosts brought together scholars, public officials, leaders of youth-serving organizations, media experts, business leaders, educators, young leaders, and others to address questions and concerns related to civic engagement, gender, and public leadership. The conference posed the following questions:
  • How do we teach our young people about public leadership and the role of government in a way that engages boys and girls equally?
  • How can we ensure that our civic education efforts inspire both boys and girls to envision themselves as future governmental leaders?
  • How do we inform all our young people about the roles women play as leaders in government, from City Hall to the White House?
904353_560918890614979_1991535836_o Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)

photo2 Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)

These questions are broad and have no simple answers, but the dialogue begun by two expert panels, five productive breakout sessions, and insights from two female members of the U.S. Senate (Collins and Heitkamp) was incredibly valuable to informing action that organizations, media, educators, and others can take to better reach the goal laid out at the start of this post. Conference panelists and speakers focused on the importance of early intervention to introduce young girls and boys to images and ideas of public leadership that are both accessible and diverse. They emphasized the need to combat countervailing pressures, particularly for girls, that divert them away from leadership and/or cause them to question their ability, intelligence, or willingness to stand apart from the crowd. Many participants cited the need for and utility of role models and mentors who  allow girls to both imagine themselves as public officials and, in some cases, provide them the tools and the advice to find political or policy success. From including more female leaders in classroom 921212_560918807281654_1846322512_omaterials (or even posters!) and media images to connecting young people directly with female leaders in their communities, adults from all sectors (educators, parents, media, politicians, organization leaders) can, as Ruth Mandel (Director, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University) said on Monday, “contribute to making the idea of woman political leaders seem natural, even inevitable.” Dr. Jill Biden kicked off the conference by sharing a story about her own daughter, who was lucky enough to see women’s political leadership first-hand at a very early age when her father (then-Senator Joe Biden) took her to the U.S. House of Representatives to advocate for an issue she cared so deeply about – dolphin safety. Lobbying then-Representative Barbara Boxer (CA), Biden’s daughter not only met a powerful woman whom she could emulate, but – according to Dr. Biden, “She saw that she could effect change.” 922125_560919180614950_1284175309_oCAWP has spent more than three decades dedicated to harnessing public leadership in women and girls, from our work with the Public Leadership Education Network to our NEW LeadershipTM program for college women (now in 24 states). We are especially proud to be launching a new initiative, Teach a Girl to LeadTM (TAG), which will be a national education and awareness campaign to re-envision what public leaders look like. TAG will draw upon the experts and organizations who participated in the White House conference, many of whom are already project allies, to meet its goals of better integrating gender into civic engagement and education, and public leadership into efforts aimed at girls’ empowerment. Our staff left Washington, DC with new wisdom, new relationships, and renewed energy to inspire and engage a new generation of women leaders. We look forward to your ideas, support, and enthusiasm to make our dream a reality. To learn more, visit our website and check out photos from the conference.

Girls Want to Change the World...Their Way

A new report from political scientists Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox finds a gender gap in political ambition among young people, ages 18-25. More specifically, Lawless and Fox report that multiple factors in men and women’s socialization – parental encouragement, political exposure/engagement, participation in sports, and perceptions of personal qualifications – make it more likely that young men see a political future for themselves than do young women, particularly in elected office. Simplifying their argument in the report’s title, Lawless and Fox write that “girls just wanna not run.” policy reports_girls not run coverBut beyond the catchy title, the findings presented in their report are more nuanced and more important. The report suggests that young women see alternative avenues to making political and policy change, and running for office is not a path on which they can envision themselves. Girls want to change the world, but they have yet to see running for electoral office as the means to that end. Lawless and Fox find that young men and women share equitable rates of activism. However, while young men’s activism may more often lead to a political campaign, their findings show that women view charity work (over running for office) as the best route toward social change. Though the authors cite this as evidence that young women are less politically ambitious than young men, it may better demonstrate that women’s ambition simply differs from men’s in both what they seek to accomplish, and how. The fact that young women expect to make a difference from outside of formal government is not terribly surprising in light of both the current paralysis in Congress and state legislatures and women’s historical exclusion from formal institutions of governance. Forced to take another path toward social change, women have fought countless battles toward equality and justice from outside of our legislative halls – and won. And, if women feel under attack by those who are making laws, it is hard for them to envision seeking  positions alongside them. It’s also hard to knowingly seek entry into institutions where you are so obviously apart from the norm. Women make up less than one quarter of the nation’s legislators – whether at the state or congressional level, only five states have female governors, and no woman has ever sat in the oval office. The absence of women in both men and women’s perceptions of public leaders is further exacerbated by the dearth of women leaders highlighted in history books, portrayed on television or in film, and/or introduced to young people far before and throughout adolescence. Simply put, women are less likely to see themselves in the public leaders to which they are most exposed well before hitting age 18. And, as Marian Wright Edelman rightly states, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” In order to encourage women to see public leadership, and specifically elected office, as an effective means toward making the social change they seek, we must provide them with more inclusive images of political leaders. Lawless and Fox prescribe this in their report, calling on organizations on college campuses to “[expose] young women to female candidates and elected officials and [provide] examples of how pursuing electoral office can bring about social change.” We are proud to do this work through CAWP’s NEW LeadershipTM program, a leadership training program that demystifies politics for college women and connects them with female political leaders and mentors. However, this exposure – and challenge to masculine images of public leadership - must also begin much earlier. Our most recent initiative, Teach a Girl to LeadTM, will take on this challenge directly by providing the tools and resources to parents, teachers, and educators to integrate women leaders into the lessons they teach, stories they share, and images they provide to children at all ages. Introducing young people to political information at any age may catalyze political engagement and ambition as they grow up, but exposure is ineffective in encouraging women’s political involvement if that information only reinforces the message that politics and government is a “man’s world.” Instead, providing both girls and boys with more inclusive images of public leadership from an early age has the potential to alter – and expand - their ideas of both who can lead and how public leadership can be an effective path toward social change. This re-vision will go a long way to ensuring that when girls think about how they want to change the world, they see elective office as a way to do it.

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